Inside Tom's Head - August 2020

04 Sep 2020

I don’t have a whole lot to talk about for this month’s post. I didn’t manage to get an actual blog post together (although it doesn’t help that it took me half the month to finish my July roundup), but I was working on stuff:

  • In particular, I started creating a practical cycling guide for the Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater area. It needs a lot of work, but I’m happy with how it’s progressing. I hope to get the first drafts of a couple more routes done this month. I also have some ideas on how to make the maps work, but I’m not sure if I’m going to make much progress on them this month with school starting back up and all.
  • I started working on a writing project that has been kicking around my head for almost a decade, 42 Apocalypses, I’m hoping to have more to say on that subject next month.
  • Finally, I think that I figured out one of the major issues I had been running into with the follow-up to There Are No Words. I’ll plan on printing it out and reading through it with a critical eye this week to see if my ideas might pan out.

Stuff I’ve been reading elsewhere

  • Adrian Hon wrote about what Alternate Reality Games can teach us about QAnon. For me, one of the big (and scary) takeaways is that part of what makes Alternate Reality Games and conspiracy theories work is that they reach a sort of critical mass of complexity and engagement, at which point the participants will find ways of integrating anomalous or discordant data rather than viewing it as a challenge to the game/theory.
    • In my mind I had viewed the ideas expressed by Thomas Kuhn in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions as being pretty broadly applicable, but maybe I’m wrong on that count. If you haven’t read the book, the idea I’m referring to is that science operates as a series of paradigms, each of which gradually accumulates anomalies before collapsing and being replaced by a more sophisticated paradigm. In essence what we’re seeing is the opposite, closer to a scientist clinging to a flawed idea and twisting data and methodology in an attempt to make the idea true. In science, this usually fails, but I worry that the same isn’t true here.
  • I was unaware of this, but police departments apparently used to be responsible for ambulance services (except that the officers weren’t trained as EMTs, even if they were to try to provide medical care en route to the facility). As you can imagine, not a great situation for anyone involved. I find this hopeful because there are a lot of paralells between that situation and the current situation of police being repsonsible for dealing with mental health crises and homelessness (to the degree that such enforcement can really be said to be dealing with the issue), and we now have a better system. Different people mean different things when they talk about defunding the police, but finding better ways of addressing issues that shouldn’t be the police’s responsibility in the first place is a pretty common theme.
  • Speaking of, there is a compelling argument to be made that releiving police of their role in traffic enforcement would make everyone safer.
  • A post over at Surly about The Realities of a Black Man in the Bike World. I don’t really have much to add to this one, except that it was good to see my chosen mode of transportation from a different perspective.
  • It’s a sad statement about the state of modern philosophy that philosophers are surprised and excited that their instruction has an effect on their students. I think that part of reason why it doesn’t is that philosophy is often all lumped together, when in fact there are big differences between practical philosophy (such as stoicism) abstract philosophy (such as epistemology) and philosophy that falls in between the two (such as ethics or moral philosophy). In my experience, philosophy is often presented as being deep, abstract thoughts, which of course is going to sound boring to a teenager. I would much prefer it presented as tools to help you have a more fulfilling life, at least at first. People can discover Kant in college.
  • I’m a big fan of RSS feeds, and am sad that they aren’t a bigger part of the web for most people, since they are the opposite of walled gardens like facebook. Matt Webb has some suggestions about what could be better about RSS. Bonus points for him also creating one of the things that he said needed to exist, aboutfeeds.com, here’s his announcement about it.
  • Some commentary on how the “cult of the free” contributed to the staff cuts at Mozilla last month. Remember, if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product… Or it’s an unsustainable business model. I feel like things like Mozilla should exist, and I’m glad that they are not a traditional business, but they should definitely be more upfront about it. For example, say I want to support Mozilla, here’s the process:
    1. Go to mozilla.com.
    2. Scroll down 5 screens (!) to find the first mention of the Mozialla Foundation, which only says “Support a healthy internet”. Click that link because it seems like there may be some sort of financial component to that support.
    3. Arrive at foundation.mozilla.org, either notice the donation link at the top or scroll down to the bottom.
    4. Once you are at the donation page, wonder about what the relationship is between the Mozilla Foundation and the Mozilla Corporation. The Wikipedia page for the Mozilla Foundation clarifies things a little, but even at the end of this I’m not sure if donating to the foundation would be doing what I wanted it to do. Does a donation to the foundation help pay for people to work on MDN? Does it help pay for people to work directly on Firefox? I have no idea, so I’m probably not going to donate. I could continue ranting, but I’ll just queue that up for a future post sometime.
  • Some good news, last month Portland passed the best low-density zoning reform in US history. Zoning exclusively for single-family homes is a problem in just about every US city and it is good to see places where sanity appears to be winning out.
  • A study on how COVID-19 might finally get city planners out of their cars. It saddens me that this wasn’t the case before. Frankly, if you’re in charge of anything, you should be making a point of spending some time seeing it from the ground. If you’re a city planner or elected official, you should make a point of experiencing what the people you’re planning for/representing experience.
  • Scientists are changing the way that we write genetic sequences due to Excel’s tendency to turn them into dates. It pains me that we are changing science to make spreadsheets work. Seriously, Microsoft should just sell a genetics plugin to fix this. Echoes of Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not A Gadget.
  • This is horrifying: An inland hurricane tore through Iowa. You probably didn’t hear about it.
  • Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation, an essay John Lewis wrote shortly before his death.
  • A pretty good overview of Universal Basic Income. If you’re wondering why I’m linking Teen Vogue, you might be surprised to hear that they do some good journalism these days.
  • Joe Biden Lost His Wife and Daughter to Traffic Violence. Could He Be the First President to Do Anything to End it?. What struck me most about this piece was actually a throw-away line about how when we talk about being in traffic collisions, we talk as though we were hit by a sentient (or at least autonomous) vehicle: “I was hit by a car.” Was the car driving itself or did the driver pilot into you? None of this is new, except that at some point in the next decade this will be an actual question, not a rhetorical one, since a car might well drive itself into you. What a weird way to possibly get to describing traffic collisions accurately.
    • Speaking of which, here is a handy guide on how to talk about this stuff in a way that doesn’t misattribute responsibility for collisions, as well as other more accurate and neutral phrases for talking about transportation.
  • Unsurprisingly, the people who are responsible for figuring out how much traffic to plan for often get the math wrong, which explains a lot about our built environment.
  • Tamika Butler has a long thread on Twitter asking “Do you describe yourself as a cyclist?” I had never given it much thought, and don’t honestly know if I have in the past or not, but I think that I probably won’t, going forward.
  • This sounds like a way better take on batman: ACAB: All Cops Are Batman.
  • It looks like Olympia may get a new flag, which is great. Also, Roman Mars (of the 99% invisible podcast) has an excellent Ted Talk about flag design (somehow informative, upsetting, and hilarious).

What I’m reading/listening to/watching/playing/whatever

  • Almost done with Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. I have one more challenge to complete and some chests to find, then I’m thinking of taking a break from it to try out while True: learn(). I’m also almost done with an initial playthrough of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.
  • I think that I have mostly broken my reddit habit. I’ve gotten to the point where I only check reddit every few days, and have been spending more time reading my web feeds, books, and the like.
  • I’ve started reading Unwinnable magazine. It is so good. I’m not that into video games honestly, but I can definitely get behind a magazine that uses video game journalism as a springboard to talk about other things (to be fair, they cover all sorts of stuff, it’s just that video games is their main focus). They have some free stuff on their site, but the bulk of their content is paid. Fortunately, they have released their entire archive for free due to the pandemic, so now is the perfect time to check it out.
  • I’m hoping to play a game or two of Mobile Frame Zero with my kid next month, which is a tabletop game where you build your mechs out of legos.
  • I’ve been listening to the audiobook of How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. It’s not always easy to listen to, but it is well written and very good.
  • I’m still trying to get statistics out of Apple Music (I’m on Android) and I don’t keep notes on my listening habits, so I don’t have a good idea of what I listened to most this month. However, I do know that the albums “A Thousand Suns” by Linkin Park and “The Woods” by Sleater-Kinney were in heavy rotation.

Let’s see if this can be the month where I actually write a real blog post.